Will the Global Child Marriage Act Keep Girls in School, Have Effective Means of Enforcement for Health Impact?

Will the Global Child Marriage Act Keep Girls in School, Have Effective Means of Enforcement for Health Impact?

Girl from Uganda. {Photo credit: MSH.}Photo credit: MSH.

The press statement title caught my attention: “Members Continue Efforts to Protect Rights of Women in Developing Countries.”

With piqued interest, I read on:

Congresswoman Betty McCollum and Aaron Schock have once again introduced legislation to stem the devastating impact of child marriage on young girls in developing countries.  The McCollum-Schock International Protecting Girls by Preventing Child Marriage Act, House Resolution (H.R.) 6087, promotes and protects the rights of girls in the developing world.

I was pleased to learn that H.R. 6087 establishes a strategy to prevent child marriage and promote the empowerment of girls.  The legislation also integrates the issue of preventing child marriage into existing US development programs, and requires that relevant agencies collect and make available data on the rates of child marriage and its impact on meeting key development goals.

I commend Congresswoman McCollum and Congressman Schock for introducing such profound and relevant legislation on behalf of women and girls globally.  The question remains, however, whether H.R. 6087 will have the necessary teeth to have a true long-term health impact for the young girls affected by child marriage.

Child marriage has many negative effects on the health of young girls, including: an increased risk of contracting HIV; pregnancy- and childbirth-related complications, such as obstetric fistula; and an increased risk for sexual coercion and domestic violence.

Moreover, girls who marry young often drop out of school, perpetuating the cycle of poverty for the girls and their families. The right to an education is true empowerment for young girls globally. If girls are able to stay in school, child marriage --- and all of the health and economic consequences that follow --- could be averted.

If passed into law, the International Protecting Girls by Preventing Child Marriage Act must be implemented in a matter that views the long-term resolution of child marriage as ensuring that young girls are kept in school. Most importantly, the legislation must provide effective means to enforce it, to ensure long-term health impact for young women and girls.

Chanell Hasty, MA, contributed to this post.

Belkis Giorgis, PhD, is senior technical advisor for the Leadership, Management and Governance Project (LMG) at MSH. She served as capacity building and gender advisor for the HIV/AIDS Care and Support Program (HCSP) in Ethiopia, the largest national expansion of HIV & AIDS services at the community and health center levels in Africa.